Today, in the big clearing in Votive Park, three people will try to tame a bull. Or rather, they will make a show of taming a bull which is already tame but is pretending to be wild. It is a bull specially trained to appear untrained, which the tamers will make a show of ‘taming’. A lot of people will turn out to watch this spectacle, and probably all of them know it is all just for show.
They put up the enclosure in the morning, ready for the start of the show at 12pm. The enclosure is pretty simple – traditional wooden fences – but around it they construct the seating which will be packed with eager audience members by 1pm, happily chomping down on the sandwiches, pasties and chips hawked by various sellers who walk between the seats. There is a speaker system set up too, and the Master of Ceremonies, one Maybell Quimvere, will stride around in the dusty chalk arena (the chalk is laid down specifically for today, to make the wild motions of the bull appear more dramatic with the white plumes it kicks up) and loudly introduce each act; the lasso competition, the plough contest (where farmers lead their horses with a ‘plough’ that draws as straight a line as possible into the chalk), and the main event: The Taming of the Ideox.
This final proclamation announces what everyone has come to see, although the supporting events are a pleasant distraction, and it therefore warrants a significant build up, which Quimvere (whose non-stage name is Carolin Derelleye) seems to relish. There is even a drum roll, played on a large instrument slung around the neck of a stagehand. ‘The ideox!’ Quimvere shouts, getting clear of the stage with some haste, as there, running out tossing its horns in the air, destroying some stacks of hay and watermelons placed especially for the purpose, is the bull, playing the part of the mythical ideox, painted with stripes or circles or spots or chevrons, depending on the artistic interpretation favoured each year.
The fact of the matter is that nobody is exactly sure what an ideox looked like, nor even truly what they were. There are no contemporaneous paintings or drawings of the creature, only a few lines of text and an enduring folk legend. The primary source of information is Tales of Foreign Lands, a Waegstallasian text from 1024 which dedicates a few pages to Buentoille. Hegom Aier, the text’s author, visited the City only briefly on his journey around the Inner Sea, through each of the Seven Cities that line it, and in that time he witnessed the Taming ritual, which then happened five times a year, when the ideox’s migratory patterns brought their enormous herds close to Buentoille. The beasts were described by Aier as ‘Mighty cattle, something like oxen but larger, with great curled horns and enormous shoulders. Their hide is patterned, and they make the most excellent beasts of burden.’
The ideox was, apparently, never eaten in the City, it being considered too intelligent to be treated in such a way, a fact that Aier seemed much put out by. A liberatum translated in 1792 by the Pohlatiné Mission seems to suggest that the ideox actually buried their own dead, although this is understandably a point of contention amongst scholars, with some claiming the ideox in this context are a complex metaphor. Whatever the truth of the ideox is, they are no longer in existence, as far as anyone is aware, with some claiming that they never actually existed at all, and that the modern vision of them labouring alongside humans in the construction of Buentoille are based around myth alone.
It is important to point out that these naysayers who doubt the ideox’s existence are in a minority, and that the persistence of today’s festival points to the fact that belief in these mythical creatures is strongly held by many. The ceremony itself, after the bull is released into the arena, is thought to have changed very little since those days when the creatures were penned in on their ventures near the City, except for all the artifice. The three tamers will first bunch together with two waving their arms in a synchronised-yet-sporadic manner, whenever the bull turns to face them. Eventually the animal will focus on them long enough for the third tamer to raise their arms, under which two large eyes are painted on their sleeves, which attach to a long gown they wear. At this point the bull becomes (or pretends to become) transfixed, looking nowhere else but at the eyes.
Once the beast’s attention has been fixed, the two tamers who were waving their arms will slowly approach in a pincer movement. The person to the animal’s left shakes a bag of grain, symbolic of the material gains the ideox would stand to receive via its labour, and the person on its right plays a small, haunting mouth harp. The warbling tune of this instrument is supposed to sound similar to the cooing of a mother ideox when speaking to its child, though there is obviously no way of verifying this notion. Slowly these performers will circle their cattle, dancing in ponderous motion as they do, making sure to duck around the head so they do not break its line of sight to the eyes. Slowly the performers make their way closer and closer to the ideox, then they begin to stroke its flanks, and eventually they take hold of its horns and whisper something unknown (to all but the Forthright Ideox Order) into the animal’s ears, simultaneously proffering the bag of grain under its nose, the eyes disappearing back down as the performer lowers their arms.
The lilting music of the mouth harp, usually accompanied by the slow beat of the drummer off-stage, suddenly falls short at this point, where the tamers and audience wait with baited breath to see if they have been successful. If they have the animal will eat, taking on a symbolic debt to humankind as it does. If not then it with thrash its horns, throwing the two performers to the sides, and the whole thing will start over, after some more wild behaviour on the part of the bull. It usually takes two to five tries for a ‘successful’ taming to occur, at which point there is great fanfare and jubilation from the audience.
One thing which definitely differs from those original festivals, besides the artifice, is the ending of the ceremonies; instead of entering into a contract of subservience by eating the grain, as was once the case, the bull instead gains its freedom; the bull is put in a trailer and driven out to the start of the plains that stretch eastwards, where it is released. It walks out that way, the sun setting behind it, just as the ideox did so long ago. They never came back, either.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Rip Day
- The Festival of the Call
- Risk Prevention Seminar and Festival Eighty Six